The University of Arizona

Common Property and Power: Insights from a Spatial Analysis of Historical and Contemporary Pasture Boundaries among Pastoralists in Central Tibet

Kenneth M. Bauer


Spatial analysis can bring out crucial issues in the political ecology of pastoral areas, with important implications for planning future development. This research combines textual analysis, participatory mapping, ethnography, and remote sensing data to study resource use and common property among pastoralists in Central Tibet. Specifically, this paper presents a case study of pasture boundaries over time in the Porong region (Nyelam County, Shigatse Prefecture, Tibet Autonomous Region, PRC). Translation and analysis of an historical (1884) boundary survey from Porong yielded hundreds of toponyms, boundary markers, livestock corrals, and resource locations, which were catalogued and indexed in a geographical database. Toponyms and landscape features listed in the boundary survey were geo-referenced using a Geographic Positioning Systems (GPS) unit: fieldwork in Tibet resulted in the collection of over five hundred GPS points that marked historical and contemporary pasture boundaries. In addition, participatory maps of pastures were generated with local herders and subsequently digitized using Geographic Information Systems (GIS) software. These compiled GIS maps provide a time series of common property boundaries and illustrate how changes in Tibet’s governance (feudalism vs. socialism) and type of economy (e.g., collectivized vs. private household production) did or did not impact the distribution of resources among pastoralists. Analysis of vegetation resources available within historical and contemporary common property units provides compelling evidence that boundaries reflect the balance of power relations, resulting in unequal availability of rangeland resources. The case study adds to the literature on common property by reinserting the state’s central roles in defining boundaries, regulating resource use, and mediating resource conflicts.

Key Words: participatory mapping, GIS, Central Tibet, common property resource management.

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